We initially received our Sanctuary positions from William Miller, which were modified and clarified by Samuel Snow and Hiram Edson. Joseph Bates brought us the Sabbath message and we received the Spirit of Prophecy through Ellen White.
In 1848, the Sabbath conferences occurred, during which time a number of our pioneers reviewed and studied—in detail—into all our doctrinal positions. However, it would have been easy for them to become misled. Had not all the religious groups before them developed doctrinal errors?
But Ellen White was present; and, as the group would go as far as they could in study, she would be taken off in vision and receive the correct interpretations. Our people studied as earnestly as they could into the Bible; but each time they were beginning to veer off into error, Ellen White was given a vision to correct them. It is clear that, without the Spirit of Prophecy, we would not have our present doctrinal truths.
So that none of the group might think that these were merely the opinions of Ellen White, God arranged matters so that she could not grasp any scriptural or doctrinal truths during this entire time. This was quite obvious to all; so they were willing to accept the light she brought them from each vision as from God. In addition, of course, it would have been impossible to counterfeit the visions themselves (no breathing for half an hour or so, etc.), which would occur in the presence of the entire group.
The best clarification of this is given in 1 Selected Messages, 206-208. Additional details will be found in 5 Testimonies, 655-656; Testimonies to Ministers, 24-26 and Gospel Workers, 302-303. All of these passages are quoted below:
“Many of our people do not realize how firmly the foundation of our faith has been laid. My husband, Elder Joseph Bates, Father Pierce, Elder [Hiram] Edson, and others who are keen, noble, and true, were among those who, after the passing of the time in 1884, searched for the truth as for hidden treasure. I met with them, and we studied and prayed earnestly. Often we remained together until late at night, and sometimes through the entire night, praying for light and studying the Word. Again and again these brethren came together to study the Bible, in order that they might know its meaning, and be prepared to teach it with power. When they came to the point in their study where they said, ‘We can do nothing more,’ the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labor and teach effectively. Thus the light was given that helped us to understand the Scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. A line of truth, extending from that time to the time when we shall enter the city of God, was made plain to me, and I gave to others the instruction that the Lord had given me.
“During this whole time I could not understand the reasoning of the brethren. My mind was locked, as it were, and I could not comprehend the meaning of the Scriptures we were studying. This was one of the greatest sorrows of my life. I was in this condition of mind until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the Word of God. The brethren knew that when not in vision, I could not understand these matters, and they accepted as light direct from heaven the revelations given.
“For two or three years my mind continued to be locked to an understanding of the Scriptures. In the course of our labors, my husband and I visited Father Andrews [J. N. Andrews’ father], who was suffering intensely with inflammatory rheumatism. We prayed for him. I laid my hands on his head, and said, ‘Father Andrews, the Lord Jesus maketh thee whole.’ He was healed instantly. He got up, and walked around the room, praising God, and saying, ‘I never saw it on this wise before. Angels of God are in this room. The glory of the Lord was revealed. Light seemed to shine all through the house, and an angel’s hand was laid upon my head. From that time to this I have been able to understand the Word of God.’
“What influence is it that would lead men at this stage of our history to work in an underhand, powerful way to tear down the foundation of our faith—the foundation that was laid at the beginning of our work by prayerful study of the Word and by revelation? Upon this foundation we have been building for the past fifty years. Do you wonder that when I see the beginning of a work that would remove some of the pillars of our faith, I have something to say? I must obey the command, ‘Meet it?’ . .
“I must bear the messages of warning that God gives me to bear, and then leave with the Lord the results. I must now present the matter in all its bearings; for the people of God must not be despoiled.
“We are God’s commandment-keeping people. For the past fifty years every phase of heresy has been brought to bear upon us, to becloud our minds regarding the teaching of the Word—especially concerning the ministration of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, and the message of Heaven for these last days, as given by the angels of the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. Messages of every order and kind have been urged upon Seventh-day Adventists, to take the place of the truth which, point by point has been sought out by prayerful study and testified to by the miracle-working power of the Lord. But the waymarks which have made us what we are, are to be preserved—and they will be preserved—as God has signified through His Word and the testimony of His Spirit. He calls upon us to hold firmly, with the grip of faith, to the fundamental principles that are based upon unquestionable authority.”—1 Selected Messages, 206-208.
“My husband, with Elders Joseph Bates, Stephen Pierce, Hiram Edson, and others who were keen, noble, and true, was among those who, after the passing of the time in 1844, searched for the truth as for hidden treasure.
“We would come together burdened in soul, praying that we might be
one in faith and doctrine; for we knew that Christ is not divided. One
point at a time was made the subject of investigation. The Scriptures
were opened with a sense of awe. Often we fasted, that we might be
better fitted to understand truth. After earnest prayer, if any point
was not understood it was discussed, and each one expressed his opinion
freely; then we would again bow in prayer, and earnest supplications
went up to heaven that God would help us to see eye to eye, that we
might be one as Christ and the Father are
one. Many tears were shed.
“We spent many hours in this way. Sometimes the entire night was spent in solemn investigation of the Scriptures, that we might understand the truth for our time. On some occasions the Spirit of God would come upon me, and difficult portions were made clear through God’s appointed way, and then there was perfect harmony. We were all of one mind and one spirit.
“We sought most earnestly that the Scriptures should not be wrested to suit any man’s opinions. We tried to make our differences as slight as possible by not dwelling on points that were of minor importance, upon which there were varying opinions. But the burden of every soul was to bring about a condition among the brethren which would answer the prayer of Christ that His disciples might be one as He and the Father are one.
“Sometimes one or two of the brethren would stubbornly set themselves against the view presented, and would act out the natural feelings of the heart; but when this disposition appeared, we suspended our investigations and adjourned our meeting, that each one might have an opportunity to go to God in prayer, and, without conversation with others, study the point of difference, asking light from heaven. With expressions of friendliness we parted, to meet again as soon as possible for further investigation. At times the power of God came upon us in a marked manner, and when clear light revealed the points of truth, we would weep and rejoice together. We loved Jesus; we loved one another.”— Testimonies to Ministers, 24-26.
“At this time there was fanaticism among some of those who had been believers in the first message. Serious errors in doctrine and practice were cherished, and some were ready to condemn all who would not accept their views. God revealed these errors to me in vision and sent me to His erring children to declare them; but in performing this duty I met with bitter opposition and reproach.”—5 Testimonies, 655-656.
“We are to be established in the faith, in the light of the truth given us in our earlier experience. At that time one error after another pressed in upon us; ministers and doctors brought in new doctrines. We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. Sometimes whole nights would be devoted to searching the Scriptures, and earnestly asking God for guidance. Companies of devoted men and women assembled for this purpose. The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error.
“As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. I would be taken off in vision, and explanations would be given me. I was given illustrations of heavenly things, and of the sanctuary, so that we were placed where light was shining on us in clear, distinct rays.
“I know that the sanctuary question stands in righteousness and truth, just as we have held it for so many years. It is the enemy that leads minds off on side-tracks. He is pleased when those who know the truth become engrossed in collecting Scriptures to pile around erroneous theories, which have no foundation in truth. The Scriptures thus used are misapplied; they were not given to substantiate error, but to strengthen truth.”— Gospel Workers, 302-303.
“Let the truths that are the foundation of our faith be kept before the people. Some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. They talk science, and the enemy comes in and gives them an abundance of science; but it is not the science of salvation. It is not the science of humility, of consecration, or of the sanctification of the Spirit. We are now to understand what the pillars of our faith are,—the truths that have made us as a people what we are, leading us on step by step.”—Counsels to Writers and Editors, 29 (Review, May 25, 1905).
“The searching testimony of the Spirit of God will separate those from Israel who have ever been at war with the means that God has ordained to keep corruptions out of the church. Wrongs must be called wrongs. Grievous sins must be called by their right name. All of God’s people should come nearer to Him . . Then will they see sin in the true light and will realize how offensive it is in the sight of God.”—5 Testimonies, 676.
“The plain, straight testimony must live in the church, or the curse of God will rest upon His people as surely as it did upon ancient Israel because of their sins.”—3 Testimonies, 269.
“Never was there greater need of faithful warnings and reproofs . . than at this very time. Satan has come down with great power, knowing that his time is short. He is flooding the world with pleasing fables, and the people of God love to have smooth things spoken to them . . I was shown that God’s people must make more firm, determined efforts to press back the incoming darkness. The close work of the Spirit of God is needed now as never before.”—3 Testimonies, 327-328.